Citizen Journalism Startup Plans Global Expansion

All Voices, a “citizen media” site that is trying to create a kind of crowd-powered newswire service, today announced an ambitious expansion into 30 countries that it believes aren’t getting enough coverage from traditional media, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and China. In effect, the company is attempting to create a Reuters-style service that brings news and insight from places that traditional media entities aren’t covering, either because they don’t care or because they’ve cut back their foreign reporting budgets.
Once the service gets well-established in those countries, Aki Hashmi of All Voices — a former Knight-Ridder and Reuters executive — says the service plans to expand into 30 more. Hashmi says the site has grown by over 400 percent in the past year and now has 337,000 contributors in 180 countries generating 4 million unique visits per month.
“If you look at AP and Reuters, they have about 40-50 percent of the world covered,” says Hashmi. “But how do you cover the rest of the world? You need a global network of professional and citizen reporters.” All Voices already has contributors in some or all of the countries, he says, but the proposed expansion will take the company deeper into those areas and create virtual news desks, consisting of both citizen journalists and professional journalists who are either freelancing or have been laid off. While All Voices won’t be approaching or hiring specific journalists in these areas, Hashmi says the service has found that journalists inevitably come forward, because they want their content to reach a larger audience, and to potentially get paid for it.

The service — which was founded in 2008 by former Sevin Rosen venture capitalist Amra Tareen based on a trip to her home country of Pakistan following a devastating series of earthquakes — is even modeled on a wire service or professional media outlet such as Reuters or Associated Press. Writers begin as “stringers,” which is the common term in the journalist business for a freelancer who files occasionally for a newspaper, wire service or broadcast network. As their content is rated, both by readers and by All Voices’ ranking algorithm, they gain reputation within the system and can be promoted first to “reporter” level and then to the top level, known as “anchor.” The site has no editors, although it has a community manager.

One writer who calls himself “California Mike” says he is 60 years old and is “a crazy old coot who probably should have inhaled more often during the ’60s, danced more during the ’70s, had more sex during the ’80s, made more money during the ’90s and been more patriotic during the ’00s.” According to the ranking shown below, he has contributed 386 reports and 789 comments and his stories have generated over 800,000 page views. Many of his reports are more like blogs posts, with his thoughts about current events. Hashmi says that writers can use nicknames, but that if they want their contributions to be syndicated through Google (s goog) ) News or to be paid by the site, they have to use their real name.

No one is going to become rich writing for All Voices, however, even with page views like California Mike’s. Much like other user-generated content sites such as Demand Media, AOL’s (s aol) or Associated Content, the rate of pay at All Voices is low — and it isn’t seen as payment so much as an incentive program. Once a contributor builds a certain reputation within the site by contributing stories and having others rank their content for credibility, they can earn anywhere from $2 per thousand page views (for a stringer) to a maximum of $4 per thousand (for an anchor). Writers also gain rank within the system by promoting their content through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
By comparison, Demand Media pays about $15 for a 500-word piece and about $7.50 for shorter items, while pays based on page views, but the exact rate is set based on how much advertising the site gets for its pages, as well as other factors (some writers who have worked for the site say it works out to about 3 cents per page view). Examiner — which is part of the portfolio of companies controlled by oil and real estate billionaire Philip Anschutz — recently acquired Vancouver, British Columbia-based “citizen journalism” outfit NowPublic for a reported $25 million. It says it has contributors (which it calls “examiners”) in 50 cities in the U.S.
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